CAI: Preventing future 9/11 terror attacks through educating children

The Central Asia Institute, Greg Mortenson and schools in Afghanistan and Pakistan Photo: Central Asia Institute

ARLINGTON, Va, September 5, 2011 – As the tenth anniversary of the September 11, 2001 terror attack approaches, a number of thoughts arise. One is to pray for the many people who died on that day, and for their loved ones who remain with us.

Another is to offer thanks to Heaven for protecting our country from a repeat of that horrendous crime, as well as to acknowledge our debt to all the police, security and intelligence officers who strive each day to protect America by discovering and preempting terror attacks before they can be carried out.

I’d also like to propose a heartfelt thanks to the people of the Central Asia Institute (CAI), an amazing group that strives to prevent hatred and violence in general by promoting education for children in some of the most remote areas of Pakistan and Afghanistan. If no one ever attempts or even dreams of launching terror attacks on September 11, 2021 or September 11, 2031, it may be due in part to the work of organizations such as CAI.

The CAI was founded in 1996 by former mountaineer Greg Mortenson, author of the book, Three Cups of Tea, and the late Dr. Jean Hoerni, one of the developers of the microchip industry in Silicon Valley. As of 2011, CAI has built or provided significant support for more than 170 schools, mostly in some of the most inaccessible mountain areas of Afghanistan and Pakistan, and has helped educate over 68,000 children and young people.

There are several reasons that CAI schools can help to encourage peace and prevent the emergence of future extremists from the region. One is that the group strives to promote the kind of schools that teach children not only education basics such as writing, reading, math and science, but also crucial aspects of character such as compassion, hard work and tolerance for people who are different from themselves.

Another is that when kids are literate and educated, they have a chance to pursue happy, productive lives. Such young people will be far less likely to be recruited by extremist groups such as the Taliban. A December 4, 2009 article in the Christian Science Monitor quotes Shoukat Ali, a teacher at one of CAI’s schools in Pakistan and a former Taliban himself: “The extremists are small in number. They can be minimized. If the people have opportunities for jobs, to own land, and go to school, most of the problems with the Taliban will go away.”

Yet another advantage of CAI schools may be that they educate a larger percentage of girls than boys. I think this is due in part to the fact that a large number of Afghan and Pakistani schools educate boys and neglect girls entirely. However, the key rationale behind CAI’s strategy seems to be the belief that educated girls will in many cases later become mothers and will tend to pass on what they have learned to their children and to others in their villages, thus multiplying the benefits of the education they have received.

According to CAI’s website, one of the reasons that CAI schools have been as successful as they have been over the years is that they are built only in villages where the local people really want to have a school, and where they are fully involved in its planning, building and maintenance:

“The tribal communities of northern Pakistan taught Mortenson a critical lesson … Sustainable and successful development can only occur when projects are entirely initiated, implemented and managed by local communities. He also learned that it was important to listen to the people in the communities served, rather than impose external evaluations or judge what is best from an outsider’s perspective. The philosophy to empower the local people through their own initiative is at the heart of all CAI programs.”

This kind of involvement by local mullahs, tribal councils and villagers in the education of the children of their villages may help explain why CAI schools have for the most part, been safe from threats and attacks from the Taliban. In Afghanistan, where over 800 other schools were attacked or destroyed by the Taliban between 2007 and December, 2009, CAI schools had been largely left alone. The Taliban seem to know that CAI schools are fiercely supported by their communities.

Finally, it would be naïve to ignore the fact that CAI has had its critics, some of whom have accused the group of failing to spend enough of the donations it receives on the actual work of building and maintaining schools in Central Asia. However, the CAI website offers what I feel is an honest and convincing rebuttal to the complaints.

In any case, a visit to the CAI website is well worth the time. One of the areas I would recommend is “Media and Press,” which features a number of fascinating and informative articles on CAI from a variety of magazines and newspapers. It also offers several photo essays covering the group’s work. I especially urge you to view “2011 Spring Journey of Hope,” at this link:

Initiatives such as the CAI’s work in Central Asia are crucial. This group is offering a viable way in which future extremism and terrorism can be diminished or outright averted, by giving children a decent chance at life through simple, basic education. I think that as you examine their website, you will feel the same.

“God does not like terrorists. Terrorism is not promoted in the Koran. They are not only the enemy of America; they are our enemy. All of us have to work together to stop them.” — Muhammad Azan, Maidan Wardak Province, central Afghanistan, from the Christian Science Monitor, Dec. 4, 2009

“On September 11, 2001, we all felt utter horror when the World Trade Center twin towers in New York City were destroyed by terrorists. Some people said this was the inevitable clash of civilizations between Islam and Christianity. But my view is different. In their purest form, Islam and Christianity are not religions of conflict and confrontation. They both place importance on peace. In my view, it is bigoted to brand all Islam as radical, just as it is bigoted to say that Islam and Christianity are fundamentally different. The essence of all religions is the same.” – Reverend Sun Myung Moon, from As a Peace-Loving Global Citizen

Read more of Clark Eberly’s Stories of Faith in the Communities at the Washington Times.

This article is the copyrighted property of the writer and Communities @ Written permission must be obtained before reprint in online or print media. REPRINTING TWTC CONTENT WITHOUT PERMISSION AND/OR PAYMENT IS THEFT AND PUNISHABLE BY LAW.

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Clark Eberly

Born in Lafayette, Indiana and I grew up mostly in the northern part of Texas. From 1982 to 2009, I worked as a research librarian at the Washington Times. Most important, I'm married to Silvia, my best friend. We have a son, Brian, and a daughter, Sonja, both of whom are a great blessing.


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